Review of Bigger, Leaner, Stronger by Michael Matthews

weight loss book, fitness book

Why I Chose This Book

I was talking with a colleague of mine about working out when he recommended I read two books, The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone, unrelated to fitness by the way, and Bigger, Leaner, Stronger by Mike Matthews. I exercised occasionally, but I sometimes yearned for a workout plan that I could feel confident that was effective and efficient. I did have a general plan and have used some standard ones before, but I guess I wanted more. This book seemed to be a possible solution to my problem. It was a bonus that Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, was supposed to be based on actual research.

I reserved the book at my local library that week and picked it up in two weeks. I picked up both The 10X Rule and Bigger, Leaner, Stronger at the same time. During those two weeks, though, I looked on Amazon as well and saw that a Kindle version of the book was on sale for less than a dollar. I bought it immediately. I think, maybe a week later it was back to normal price at $8. I got it just in time.

Bigger, Leaner, Stronger

The basic premise of the book is lift heavy, eat an adequate amount of protein to build muscle and cut the amount of calories consumed to lose fat. The basic principles for building muscle on this plan are lift heavy weights, generally, do 3 sets of 4-6 tough reps not including warmup reps, and use free weights. Add cardio in as needed. No complicated weightlifting schemes are needed such as muscle confusion. Plain and simple. For muscles to grow, you need to increase the amount of resistance to your muscles and eat enough protein and carbs. Yes, carbs. They’re a source of energy and your body needs energy to exercise.

To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you burn. It’s best to eat fewer calories and increase your metabolism by lifting weights. Lifting weights helps you gain muscle, more muscle needs to burn more energy, which means increased metabolism. There are three phases to gaining muscle and losing weight. One, there’s the bulking stage in which you gain muscle by focusing on lifting heavy weights and increasing your protein consumption. Second, once you gain some muscle and have about 17% body fat you start cutting in which you still lift heavy weights to maintain muscle, but consume fewer calories. The target body fat percentage is about 10%. To help maintain the muscle you’ve gained, in addition to still lifting heavy weights, you consume adequate amounts of protein as part of your calories. Third, there is maintaining, in which you’re not gaining much muscle though you still might, or fat, but you’re maintaining your desired physique at that point.

Starting the Bigger, Leaner, Stronger Program

Before starting a fitness program, it is important to understand the importance of mental preparedness. Weight loss is about more than what you eat or how you exercise. Many people fail to get fit because they are not mentally prepared. Most importantly, you should understand your “why” for getting fit. This will help carry you through the tough times and fight off temptations. Part of being mentally prepared is understanding willpower. Willpower is not just saying “I won’t,” but also “I want.” Having fitness goals and reminders are good ways to help you stay on track.

Matthews recommends a target body fat percentage of 10%. When bulking you are focused on gaining muscle. Over time you’ll probably gain fat too. Once you reach 17% body fat, you’ll want to cut, or burn fat. To lose the fat you gained without also losing the muscle, which a lot of people do when they try to cut, reduce the amount of calories you consume. Make sure you are intaking enough protein and lifting heavy weights though.

Exercise Myths

Matthews corrects common myths about building muscle and losing weight. An example of such is “You do not need to do more sets to grow stronger instead, increase the weights.” Also, when you work out you don’t have to “feel the burn” for it to be working. Do compound exercises, not isolation exercises. Some isolation exercises are okay like shoulder exercises. In general, free weights are more effective than machines. You don’t need to constantly change your routine and always practice good form.

Some may say that you don’t have to monitor how many calories you consume, but you should definitely watch your calories.  More calories consumed than burned=fat gain and vice versa. Eat less energy than you burn to lose fat. Technically, it is possible to lose weight on a “junk food diet” by eating fewer calories than consumed and it has been demonstrated before. This is not recommended, though, due to potential deficiencies in important nutrients. Another harmful practice people often adopt is drastically restricting one’s diet for a short period of time. This is not recommended. People tend to overeat once they’re off the diet and gain all of the weight back plus more.

The body goes through cycles of fat burning and formation. Formation occurs during meals and burning occurs afterwards, especially at night. Eat on a schedule that works best for you. Eating fewer big meals or more smaller meals or eating late at night doesn’t make much of a difference for weight gain. What matters is total energy consumed and total energy burned. It is important to follow an eating schedule that works best for you. Eating protein 30-40 minutes before bed has been shown to improve muscle recovery, though.

A few other pieces of advice and myth busting include: 1. Cardio is not that efficient for losing weight though it does help. 2. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) cardio does help increase basal metabolic rate. 3. Don’t chase fad diets. Keep it simple. 4. You don’t need to do a lot of reps. Increase your workload. 5. Spot reduction doesn’t work for example ab exercises will not reduce your stomach fat.

Nutrition

To gain muscle and burn fat you need to eat properly. You need vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbs. If you eat too little you will lack nutrients and have little gain. By contrast, don’t eat too much or else you will gain muscle and fat. Use macronutrients properly to optimize your body composition. When restricting one’s diet you’ll want to lose fat, but not muscle. Therefore, while cutting back calories, one should still maintain a healthy amount of protein, carbohydrates, and even fat in your diet to maintain muscle and hormone levels.

When cutting, the body will try to slow down its metabolism to maintain a set body weight. To counteract this, resistance training can help maintain or even boost your metabolism during a calorie deficit. During a calorie deficit, your body may try to break down muscle to retrieve some of the lost calories, but again resistance training can help prevent this muscle loss while trying to lose fat.

Matthews breaks down what the current science says about the use of supplements. Some pass and others fail. Other nutrition advice includes eating a preworkout snack that contains carbs for energy and protein for muscle growth about 30 minutes before working out. Also, have a similar postworkout snack.

Training

Matthews lists three scientific laws of muscle growth: 1. Progressive overload over all. 2. Proper rest is important. It tTakes the body 2-7 days to heal muscles from training. 3. Muscles need to be properly fed.

When training, do heavy compound weightlifting. Do three sets of 4-6 reps. Your entire workout should last no longer than 60 to 65 minutes. You don’t have to do a lot of cardio, but you should do it, especially for a lean look. Working in cardio, 20-25 minute HIIT, three to five times a week should be sufficient. Practicing good form and not over stressing yourself are good ways to prevent workout injuries.

Matthews provides different training programs for those who want to workout 3 or 4 or 5 times a week. Throughout the training program you should track your workout progress so that you know what progress you are or aren’t making. That includes body fat percentage, weight, weights and reps used. You can use spreadsheets, apps, or good old pen and paper. Use which is best for you. Again, it’s good to track your progress, but if it becomes too complicated or burdensome causing you to lose interest in working out at all, simplify it.

It’s good to have a training partner. They can help hold you accountable, push you, and you can even use them for a spot. Be a good partner too. Show up on time and when you say you’re going to. Don’t get chatty and distract your partner when working out. Help each other focus on your workouts and talk later.

Conclusion

On this plan you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the gym which may feel weird to some people, but the advice is backed by scientific research. Matthews also gives advice on supplements and offers bonus material. So far, attempting to follow this plan, I have seen some results. Immediately, I began aggressively increasing the amount of weights that I was using and I had noticeable results within the first few weeks. If nothing else, I have personally gained that mindset and have seen it worked.

This book seems to be pretty good for anyone starting out or even more experienced people who may have stagnated in their progress. Again, the plan is based on scientific research and not just “bro” advice. This book should be kept as a reference. There are general workout plans for those who workout 5, 4, and three days a week. I’m not at 17% body fat, but I do have the urge to cut. Diet, for me, isn’t so hard, except it can be more difficult if you live with other people who like to keep calorie- rich food around.

Overall, it’s a great read. The book provides clear cut advice for losing weight and building muscle. In addition, everything is actually backed up by research, which is included in the book. Admittedly, I haven’t followed up a single reference at the time of this writing, but at least others still seem to approve of it. I know, but it’s better than nothing. One thing that I wouldn’t have mind seeing in the book was a list of sample meal plans. He does give adequate information on forming your own meal plan though and offers services and supplementary material for doing this so, he doesn’t neglect this aspect. This book is good for the beginner or even the expert fitness person interested in improving his/her health.

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